Ice isn’t just an elemental type to deal with in Pokémon, it can be a headache of sliding and slipping around in the overworld for trainers as well. The series didn’t always include ice on the ground though—it was first introduced to the series in Generation II games Pokémon Gold & Silver.
Evolution of Ice
When players first encountered ice in Pokémon games it wasn’t quite as, well, visually appealing as it became in later titles. In fact the Ice Path, where players had to navigate a tunnel with both rocks and frozen sheets of ice, didn’t look that different from many other cavernous areas. ‘Ice’ just looked like parts of the ground that were smooth and had diagonal lines.
This was ultimately rectified in the follow-up to Gold & Silver, Pokémon Crystal, which had a much more distinct look and really sold the icy feel of the route. It was much more immersive and looked like a place that Swinub and Delibird would actually reside in. It set the tone for how Game Freak wanted to portray colder zones in the future and let Ice-type fans have their own spot in the Pokémon world to call their own.
Not limited to routes, it was also used as a puzzle mechanic when challenging several gyms throughout the series. Challenging the Mahogany Gym in Johto, Snowpoint Gym in Sinnoh or Icirrus Gym in Unova (pictured above) all required players to slide their way through the gym and find the correct route to the Gym Leader at the end. Oddly enough though, Kalos’ Snowbelle Gym lacked a sliding puzzle; it remains the only Ice-type gym not to feature one.
Where there’s Ice, there’s Snow
Not content with keeping Ice-type Pokémon constrained in cold caves, Game Freak eventually added snow to their arsenal of route designs and several regions benefited from the change of scenery. First introduced in Generation IV’s Pokémon Diamond & Pearl, snow-covered routes forced Trainers to dismount their bikes and trudge through by foot. They also featured random encounters anywhere there was snow, similar to walking in caves or surfing over water. This meant repels were needed if you weren’t grinding experience or searching for Pokémon when you wanted to move unhindered.
In Pokémon X & Y the ante was upped further—players were now forced to get through the snow by riding a Mamoswine around! It was an interesting use of the new Pokémon riding mechanic introduced in Generation VI, but certainly slowed down exploration a bit. Plenty of dismounting and remounting the patient Mamoswine meant that adventurers weren’t going to finish exploring the route in a hurry. There’s also an entire city covered with snow, Snowbelle City!
Finally, players of the latest games, Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, may not be able to slide around on any ice puzzles, but they can see a bit of snow and some ice crystals when they climb up Mount Lanakila on the otherwise tropical island!
Fun world-building or unnecessary hindrance?
In the end there’ll probably be two camps of people: those that love ice and snow routes, and those that don’t. Even if you’re in the latter camp, I hope you’ve been able to see the love put in by the designers and how gameplay has evolved throughout the Pokémon series in regards to chilly climates and the many places Trainers now have to explore. As a kid I always loved sliding around and trying to figure out the puzzle on my own… although many times I’d just lose patience and consult the internet.